Middlesboro running back Michael Carroll suffered the worst injury head coach Zach Massengill has seen in more than a decade of coaching.
Carroll was a freshman for the Yellowjackets in Massengill’s first year with the program. The team started the 2014 season, Massengill’s first with the program, at Grant County. That matchup ended in a 7-7 tie after lightning disrupted the evening. A bye week followed that tease of a season kickoff, so Massengill decided to host an intrasqaud scrimmage at the school to help keep his players’ fire lit during the bye.
“I tried to make it a little bit of fun for the kids because it was early in the season and everybody was geared up to play,” Massengill said.
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It was during that scrimmage that Carroll, then a freshman, dislocated his elbow while trying to pick himself up after being tripped in the backfield.
“It was the worst injury I’d ever seen,” Massengill said. “ … Ligaments, tendons. Everything was dismantled.”
Carroll missed the rest of his freshman season but worked hard to make a return as a sophomore. He was on the field during the Yellowjackets’ summer workouts and was with the team during a minicamp at Mount St. Joseph’s in Cincinnati.
“It’s July 31, we’re not even in full gear,” Massengill starts before describing a play that ended with a kid rolling up on Carroll’s leg, resulting in a dislocated knee with a torn ACL and MCL. It “by far trumped the worst injury I’ve ever seen,” he said.
So Carroll spent another offseason rehabbing and getting ready for a return to football. He made it happen, managing to start on special teams in the Jackets’ season opener against Bell County as a junior. Unfortunately, his academic recovery couldn’t keep up with his physical recovery, and Carroll had to spend the remainder of the season catching up in Middlesboro’s alternative program. Another lost season.
Massengill wasn’t sure what to make of it when Carroll wanted to come back to the team as a senior.
“I didn’t even really know if I was going to let him play, because he was a little bit of a distraction,” Massengill said. “He’s worked his tail off. He’s got back in the mix. He’s been in the weight room. He’s came out this year and apologized to the team about some of the things that have happened.”
“He’s basically almost become a captain.”
Carroll has been a bright spot for the Yellowjackets, who’ve gotten off to a 2-4 start prior to one of the toughest district slates — Lexington Christian, Danville and Somerset — in front of any team in the state. He had a career night — 302 yards and five touchdowns on just 12 carries — in a 46-20 win over Pineville on Sept. 15.
Carroll ripped off an 80-yard touchdown against South Laurel last week and had 112 yards on six carries before leaving the game with — gulp — an injury to his other knee. A suspected ACL tear turned out to be a sprained MCL, so he should be good to go after this week.
However the rest of the season plays out for Carroll, it’s already a win.
“He’s really fought through some adversity,” Massengill said. “Just being here is a testimony to him and our assistant coaches that have helped him along the way. I’m just awful proud of him.”
Massengill made that clear as he lavished praise on the young man during the postgame huddle following the win over Pineville.
“I bragged on him and he walked into the office after the game and he shut the door,” Massengill said. “He wanted to just say, ‘Coach, I wanted to tell you all I appreciate it. That’s the first time anybody ever said they’re proud of me.’ He said, ‘Thank you for the opportunity. I love you, and we’re gonna get better.’
“That’s why you coach.”